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Don’t Send Your Marie Kondo’ed Clutter to Africa

An American public health nurse hired by a university in northern Iraq works to develop the nursing program for Kurdish students. She tried to raise $15,000 to build student capacity, continue education for faculty, and fund the purchase of equipment. Tried and struggled and is failing, because let’s be frank, who cares about the health of the Kurds? Does caring for their health and their education spark joy for most Americans? Apparently not.

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Marie Kondo tells Americans in her book and now her popular Netflix show to toss out everything that does not bring them joy. Touch the object. Feel no joy? Out it goes. And so, mountains of excessive items that fail the joy test pour out of American homes. What does tend to give Americans joy is to donate their used items.

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The public university in Northern Iraq where the American nurse works receives an anonymous shipment of 18,000 books, many of them nursing books. Every nursing book was published in the 1980s, except the one published in 1965. Thousands of outdated, potentially harmful nursing books bring no one joy and they bring no one health.

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I imagine the American who decluttered their home of all these books leaves the post office full of joy at having done a good deed. They are so joyful, they may head straight to the store to buy more junk.

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I work at a school and launched a girls running club in the Horn of Africa and we have also received donations of items that brought no one joy in the United States. Sports bras with two different sized cups. Underwear with one leg hole massively stretched out. Shoes with no laces. Shoes with holes through the bottom. Used coloring books. Popped balloons. Burned down candles. Children’s books with pages torn out.

While it might spark joy for the person donating the used underwear or popped balloons, it does not spark joy for me to receive them. Or to spend time going through boxes of worthless donations. Or to spend even more time carting the junk to the already over-flowing city garbage dump.

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The American nurse now has to spend the week figuring out how to explain why Americans sent piles of worthless books, and decide what to do with them. She has less time for her students or her classes. She, her students, and other faculty feel insulted and ashamed. And she still struggles to raise the money needed to run the program at top capacity. The cost of shipping the container would have made a significant dent in that need.

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What if instead of Marie-Kondo-ing all the excess junk, Americans didn’t buy it to begin with? What if a movement to declutter morphed into a movement to never clutter? All that excess money saved could be spent to save lives in northern Iraq. Not lives saved by military conquest or complicated and short-term political solutions. Not lives saved, in theory, by donations of used clothing. But lives saved by fellow Kurds who have learned the skills to be effective health care providers and who can now serve for an entire lifetime among their people?

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Why do people end up with hundreds of shoes they have never worn, never even taken out of the box? Those shoes alone (and I’m referencing one of the episodes) could more than pay for this nursing need in Iraq. Why do people have so many holiday decorations they can’t even celebrate the holiday? What hole in the heart are we trying to fill and when will we learn that stuff will not fill it?

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I’m not saying never donate or don’t send things. I pass on my shoes and shirts and pots and pans that I don’t use anymore. We donate, we ship. We have way too much stuff. I’m not immune to this and am speaking to myself as much as to anyone else.

I’m just suggesting we behave thoughtfully, respectfully, and wisely.

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Two things to end with and you might call me crabby or mean and that’s fine. I get that my opinions from this side of the ocean are not popular with people on the other side.

Don’t let your spark of joy be an excuse to cause someone else a groan of frustration.

Consider never cluttering to begin with and think of generous ways to use what could have been spent on that clutter. That could spark a lot of joy.

 

*includes affiliate links

 

The Bookshelf, January 2019

The holidays, my brother’s wedding, and family in town meant I did not read much in December.

But cancer and isolation in January meant I had loads of time to read. Plus, I received two gift cards for places where the only thing I could purchase was books. Awesome! I couldn’t repurpose the gifts to buy socks for my kids or groceries. I had to buy books, which I did with great delight.

A Tree Full of Angels, by Macrina Wiederkehr. Beautiful. This quote says it all, “You live in a world of theophanies. Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure.”

The Coddling of the American Mind. This book was fascinating. As a parent of two college students, a person involved in education, and an expatriate observing America from afar, I appreciated this balanced perspective on rage culture, “safetyism,” and changing ideas of what is violent or offensive. I admit to be slightly confused as to why a person feels unsafe because they are assigned a reading by someone they disagree with. Especially when in my world, I feel unsafe when people throw stones at me or grab my butt when I walk in the street. The dichotomy made it hard to understand aspects of American news. This book also brought about really great conversations with my college kids about campus culture, and mental health.

The Incendiaries, by R.O. Kwon. I read another novel, you guys! Must be the radioactivity going to my brain. I enjoyed it. Campus life, politics, religion…it was a quick and interesting read. According to NPR, “In The Incendiaries Kwon has created a singular version of the campus novel; it turns out to be a story about spiritual uncertainty and about the fierce and undisciplined desire of her young characters to find something luminous to light their way through their lives.”

Invitation to Retreat by Ruth Haley Barton. This was a gentle, sweet read to guide me into my days of nuclear-treatment and isolation for my cancer. If you are considering a few days of retreat, consider reading this ahead of time or bring it along.

Proud by Ibtihaj Muhammed. I love reading about women and sports, especially Muslim women and sports because there aren’t many stories in print (yet). And the story is a good one. My one complaint is that I found it a bit slow going.

Louder than Words: harness the power of your authentic voice, by Todd Henry. A lot of this book is geared toward writers, or creatives, but it is for more than just us. Its for for anyone trying to find their vocation, or passion, or obsession. The highlight for me was how Henry takes the reader through practical exercises to help develop a “manifesto” that can guide our decisions about work, creative or not.

Fear and Faith: finding the peace your heart craves, by Trillia Newbell. I read this in basically one sitting, while waiting in the waiting room and then the nuclear medicine room as I waited for my radioactive iodine treatment. They had to take a required pregnancy test, which meant I had a long time to wait. I love the title and there were plenty of wise words in this book. I appreciated her vulnerability about her own fears and losses. Sometimes, I find Christian books like this to be basically some nice stories and then some Bible verses. I wanted her to dig deeper. That could be a reaction stemming from my 16 years abroad – culture shock or culture shift or something. Like when she writes, like so many other American Christians, “For now, know what God wants to remind us that he will take care of all our needs…” and goes on to say how our basic needs like food and shelter will be met. And I want to shout, “But what about when they aren’t?!” Because that is what I see in the Horn of Africa and can’t yet find a book that is honest about how sometimes God doesn’t meet those needs we consider ‘basic human rights.’ Who is God then, and what is his plan? I believe he is still good and present, but let’s talk about that.

The Plot Whisperer: secrets of story structure any writer can master, by Martha Alderson. This book also comes with a workbook. For anyone working on a novel, screenplay, even a memoir, this book is incredibly practical and useful. Using the Universal Story as a guideline (ala Story, by Robert McKee), she breaks down what needs to happen over the course of a story, and when.

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. A memoir of near-death experiences. This book was scary and hopeful and brave and interesting. Every chapter is about one of the author’s near-death experiences. It made me think about when or if I’ve had experiences like that and how I’ve responded.

 

By |January 14th, 2019|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: |0 Comments

Cancer Super Powers

Day 2 of butt shots, done. A very literal pain in the butt.

So far, so good. I don’t feel too many side effects besides an ache, a headache, and fatigue.

Tomorrow I have another round of blood work and then the bizarre part of thyroid cancer really kicks in. The radioactive iodine pill and isolation.

To prepare, a friend gave me lovely flowers, a book, and soup. I bought another book with a gift card from my sister, and a journal. My mom gave me sour candies for sucking on (recommended), lots of other goodies, and a hot water pot (for coffee in my Cancer Sucks mug from my other sister). I have an exciting writing project to work on. I have a list of personal reflection questions to process through.

I’m trying to view this like a retreat.

I still think I deserve to get at least one super power out of this radioactivity.

But upon reflection, I do get super powers out of it. Just like every other cancer patient.

We get fresh perspective.

We get profound gratitude.

We get to experience our own strength.

We get to relinquish control.

We get to exercise faith.

We get to be loved well.

Those are probably the best super powers, anyway.

(Though I still wouldn’t mind the ability to fly.)

A Cancerous Disruption and Next Steps

Last Thursday my husband and youngest flew back to Djibouti.

I was supposed to be on that flight.

See, ever since 2003, I planned to spend the first semester of the twins’ university year in the US. So our plan all along was that I would stay in MN from September through the New Year. Which meant it was a convenient time for me to get cancer.

Sure, it was a distraction. I hadn’t planned to spend days and days at the doctor’s office or recovery from surgery. I hadn’t planned on shouting to my husband across the ocean, “I HAVE CANCER,” because the phone connection was poor. But we took all that in stride, mostly. I had the time to do the appointments, I was already here. Heck, it gave me something interesting to do. I guess.

But, I did plan to get on an airplane January 3 and go home.

And now I can’t.

Now, cancer has disrupted not only my life, but also my plan.

I have written before that safety is an illusion, a western idol. I don’t believe in safety.

Now, I understand on a deeper level that the same is true with control. I like to be in control. I easily buy into the illusion that I am in control and willingly, if unconsciously, worship at the idol of control. One thing cancer will do for an otherwise perfectly healthy young(ish) woman who eats well and exercises regularly and strives toward peace relationally is to reveal that illusion for the emptiness that it is.

Control is an illusion, an idol.

I am not in control of my life, I never was.

It is time to stop believing in control, the same way I stopped believing, years ago, in safety.

The loss of safety and the loss of control could easily lead to a debilitating fear. Terror, disease, loneliness, brokenness could be lurking around every corner, better not leave the house. Better not fall in love. Better not have a family. Better not put my heart into creative work.

Or, I can relinquish safety and control and I can turn around and grab on again to faith in a good God, a God with the unchanging identity of God With Us, the whole point of the season we just passed through. Christmas. Incarnation. Immanuel.

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There is a new plan, I hope to get on an airplane January 30. I’m making choices, like getting a visa, that assume this date will be my travel date. But I understand now that this is something beyond me. Then there will be other flights and plane rides to continue taking care of this #dumbcancer. And again, I can’t control those. I guess this is what a life of actual faith looks like.

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Today, Monday, I start the next phase of treatment. It is actually pretty quick. A series of injections and blood tests and body scans, then a crazy radioactive iodine pill, then several days of isolation, more blood tests and scans, and then, insha Allah, I’ll be cleared to fly.

I’ll tell you more about the pill later. While it will render me radioactive, it will not, unfortunately, cause me to glow in the dark or develop the ability to fly. I asked. The only super power I will earn is the ability to set off airport alarms with my body(!).

Today, its just a shot and blood tests.

Here we go.

 

By |January 7th, 2019|Categories: cancer|Tags: , , |1 Comment